The Righteous Among The Nations
The acquaintance between Kazimirs Vilnis, a Catholic priest, and Berl Packin, an observant Jew, began in 1940, during the short period of the first Russian occupation of Latvia. Packin was then working at the Soviet sawmill and was responsible for the distribution of building materials. Vilnis needed wood for constructing a new church in his parish in Riga, and Packin provided him with everything he needed. Since the Soviets forbade the construction of religious institutions using state funding, Packin could have been punished for this. Luckily, it did not happen. Vilnis, who had built a small church in the outskirts of the city, did not forget Packin’s help. With the start of the anti-Jewish measures, the priest visited Packin’s home on 25 Vaiden Dam Street, and suggested that Berl, his mother and sisters convert to Christianity. He believed it would protect them. The Packins refused. Nevertheless, Vilnis left them his address and a telephone number, in case they change their mind.
In September 1941 the Packins were interned in the Riga ghetto, and by December of the same year Berl Packin had lost all his relatives – they were shot in the Rumbuli forest near Riga.
Up until November 1942 Packin, being part of the Jewish working brigade, stayed in the Riga ghetto. Once he overheard a conversation between two Germans about the planned transfer of all the remaining Jews into the Kaiserwald concentration camp. That is when he decided to escape.
After leaving his work place unnoticed, he headed first towards the house where he was born and where he lived for 28 years. A neighbor, Emma Rudzit, hid him in the cellar for several days. His next hideout was the hayloft of his former colleague, Richard Trumpe. When Packin could not stay there any longer, he remembered Vilnis.
The priest welcomed Packin and after certain deliberations hid him, first inside the church, and then – on the church premises. The offer to convert to Christianity was never mentioned again. Vilnis had great respect for Packin’s religious practices; upon Packin’s request, he even bought him new dishes for Passover.
Before the Soviets returned to Latvia the priest took Packin’s advise and fled to Sweden. Berl Packin survived to see the liberation from the Nazis. Shortly after the war he immigrated to the United States. In 1986 the rescuer and the survivor were reunited.
On January 27, 2008 Yad Vashem recognized Kazimirs Vilnis as a Righteous Among the Nations.